Fugitive defends his grisly trade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am

Indian police have launched a massive hunt to capture a man charged with selling human skeletons to medical students.

Mukti Biswas, 55, is one of West Bengal's most wanted men for running what is being described as a 'skeleton factory' at Purbasthali on the banks of the River Bhagirathi, 200km from Calcutta.

In an interview with a Bengali daily, Biswas said he pulled out bodies floating in the Bhagirathi, removed the rotting flesh with acid, polished the bones and sold the cleaned-up skeletons for cash. He said he sells up to eight skeletons a month at 10,000 rupees apiece ($1,745) and shares the proceeds with half a dozen helpers.

'I have been trading in human bones for 20 years and there is nothing illegal about the trade,' Biswas said in defiance of policemen, politicians, reporters and local residents complaining of the stench from rotting corpses.

A. K. Singh, regional police chief, said that Biswas was also being investigated for raiding graves - a charge he flatly denies.

'Biswas is a lawbreaker and a wanted man because amended Indian laws prohibit any business in human bones,' Mr Singh explained.

Apparently, the buyers are medical students in West Bengal and Bangladesh, who use the skeletons for their studies.

But Biswas is not alone. There is a thriving business in human bones across South Asia. Besides medical study, they are sold for religious rituals and even handicrafts.

Since New Delhi banned the export of human skulls and bones in 1995, overseas demand has spawned a black market trade in skeletons. Before the law change, Calcutta enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the world's largest exporter of skeletons.

While Biswas is the centre of attention, he is just a small cog in a bigger wheel of racketeers sending shipments abroad - including to western countries - in defiance of the ban.

Mother Teresa was buried in Mother House and not in a cemetery because Calcutta's Christian and Muslim graveyards are often raided for skeletons.

Henry d'Souza, then Calcutta's archbishop, said at the time: 'We want Mother's grave to be safe. Everyone knows what goes on in cemeteries here.'